If White Lotus Was Bad: Nine Perfect Strangers Review
Emerson Furgason ‘24 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Upon briefly glancing through Hulu’s wide array of offered television shows and movies, it is incredibly easy to become attracted to one of the streaming service’s newest original shows, Nine Perfect Strangers (2021). Through briefly reading the show’s synopsis, looking at its star-studded cast, and recognizing that it is a David E. Kelley production, it is an inevitable compulsion to believe that the show would be one of the most entertaining television dramedies of the year. Unfortunately, while Nine Perfect Strangers seems to have all the right components necessary to create an entertainingly over-the-top series, it ultimately feels like a dumbed-down version of HBO Max’s incredibly successful “summer must-watch” series, The White Lotus (2021).
Nine Perfect Strangers follows a group of incredibly wealthy individuals who have been mysteriously invited to an exclusive wellness retreat. Throughout their stays, each of these nine strangers embark on their own “transformative” and “healing” journeys. Considering the fact that the wellness retreat and its leading guru Masha (Nicole Kidman) seem to cultivate cult-ish vibes, it is deeply upsetting that the show doesn’t capitalize on the tone or mood it creates. Although the show amps up the weirdness of the situation by suggesting that each individual has their own horrible secrets that led them to the retreat, the plot manages to be incredibly predictable. The show seems to hint at the possibility of certain dramatic events occurring, but they never actually do happen. Instead, the show’s central narrative is laden with incredibly over-the-top and deeply saddening monologues. While these monologues are incredibly well-delivered, the show relies too heavily on emotional momentum. As a result, the show lacks any narrative drive and instead depends on captivating its viewers with sequences of A-list actors crying and tracking shots of the lush Byron Bay, Australia (where the series was shot).
The entire series follows the nine strangers as they go through Masha’s program at Tranquillum House, where they are covertly drugged without their consent. The guests are drugged with LSD, mushrooms, and ecstasy, which Masha believes will allow them to face their “inner demons.” While maybe not the best way to entice individuals to come to terms with their grief or pain, each of the characters does, in fact, seem to have a reason to seek “tranquility.” Ben (Melvin Gregg) and Jessica Chandler (Samara Weaving) are a young couple who have been failing to get along recently, due in part to Jessica’s obsession with her social media presence. There is also Lars Lee (Luke Evans) who is struggling with a break-up and Carmel Schenider (Regina Hall) a recent divorcée with an insane amount of anger issues. There is the Marconi family, composed of Heather (Asher Keddie), Zoe (Grace Van Patten), and Napoleon (Michael Shannon). Finally, to round out the cast, there is the bitter ex-athlete Tony Hogburn (Bobby Cannavale) and scammed novelist Frances Welty (Melissa McCarthy).
Although the number of drugs involved seems to promise that the show’s plot will involve some trippy, drug-induced sequences reminiscent of HBO Max’s Euphoria, they never actually occur. The time the guests spend at the resort, and the plot of the show itself are practically uneventful. For example, there is an entire sequence that revolves around the guests competing in a potato sack race. While this scene is somewhat funny, it doesn’t match with the mysterious tone established early on. Yet another issue with Nine Perfect Strangers is the excessive amount of coverage on certain things. Yes, the cinematography is beautiful; but how many times does one have to watch Masha make a smoothie? The show seemingly offers coverage on the most mundane things, attempting to offer commentary on the wellness industry or how people struggle with grief. This doesn’t necessarily land with audiences in any shape or form, as the dialogue is incredibly campy.
Not to mention, the show seemingly follows the exact same concept as Mike White’s satirical summer-hit, The White Lotus. Both shows follow a group of predominantly white, rich people as they attempt to find themselves and fix relationships at a top-notch venue with insanely luxurious, beach views. Moreover, both shows initially create a suspenseful tone and pace to keep viewers engaged in the plot. In The White Lotus, viewers are thrust right into the drama as it is revealed that a murder has taken place within the show’s first episode. The entire rest of the series then follows the timeline of events leading up to the murder, cultivating a highly-entertaining mystery while also involving various aspects of satirical comedy. Similarly, Nine Perfect Strangers begins with Masha receiving a variety of threats to her safety; however, nothing ever comes of these threats. While The White Lotus ends with the murderer and the victim revealed, nothing ever actually comes of the threats made towards Masha in Nine Perfect Strangers. Therefore, while The White Lotus leaves viewers with a fulfilling ending to a captivating mystery, Nine Perfect Strangers leaves its audience completely empty-handed. The series seems to continually promise that something big or dramatic will happen every single time Masha is threatened, but nothing ever comes out of it. Masha is never attacked or threatened in any real way, so the show ultimately hints at something thrilling happening, but never actually delivers it. Undoubtedly, this lack of fulfillment is incredibly discouraging and upsetting to viewers of the series who could have easily watched The White Lotus instead. Not to mention, The White Lotus highlights the often scrupulous behaviors of the wealthy and privileged and offers commentary on how incredibly awful rich people can act. Nine Perfect Strangers seems to offer its own commentary on the immoral behaviors of the wealthy, but the series never really delves too deeply into discussing this theme. Instead, Nine Perfect Strangers attempts to offer commentary on how people deal with grief. Again, this message completely falls short, as viewers don’t really get to see the characters grapple or come to terms with their grief or pain. Instead, they are forced to watch characters such as Carmel act on their pain and grief in violent ways, illustrating that she still hasn’t accepted what has happened to her and will continue to be bitter forever.
Furthermore, considering the absolute pedigree attached to David E. Kelley’s name after the success of his HBO series Big Little Lies (2017), it comes with no surprise that Nine Perfect Strangers was supposed to be good. Not only were both shows produced by Kelley, but both are based on books written by acclaimed author Liane Moriarty. With how entertaining and well-written Big Little Lies is, it’s almost impossible to not set a high bar for how good Nine Perfect Strangers should be. However, this bar seemingly was not even touched by Hulu’s eight-part miniseries, leaving fans with an overwhelming sense of disappointment.
Finally, this sense of disappointment also comes from the fact that the cast of Nine Perfect Strangers is packed to the brim with stars. As previously mentioned, Academy Award-winning actress Nicole Kidman plays Masha, the wellness retreat’s founder. There’s also Melissa McCarthy who plays a woman-writer scorned and Samara Weaving, who plays a self-absorbed social media influencer. Besides these three women, Nine Perfect Strangers’ star-studded cast also includes Bobby Cannavale, Michael Shannon, and Regina Hall. Considering the sheer amount of star-power that Nine Perfect Strangers boasts, it is incredibly upsetting how much of a let-down each character is. While the actors did an outstanding job with the material given to them, there is no doubt that the writers failed to create multi-dimensional characters. The characters all seem incredibly shallow, and the show’s only attempt to flesh each of them out is by offering far-fetched backstories for why they behave the way they do. Each character’s motivation, as a result, is lost to the way-side and there isn’t much inter-character conflict. While it’s incredibly riveting to watch Nicole Kidman or Melissa McCarthy deliver one of the show’s seemingly thousandth emotional monologue, these monologues fall short because the viewer is unable to truly understand or connect with the character.
Although not completely unwatchable, Nine Perfect Strangers will drive its viewers insane with the idea of what could have been. The show had all the potential to be better than or at least on the same level as The White Lotus. Nine Perfect Strangers has the source material, the cast, and the producer necessary in crafting a television hit. However, the lack of successful characterization, muddled plot, and failure to capitalize on the sense of mystery established results in an entirely unfulfilling miniseries. Since Nine Perfect Strangers follows the exact same premise as its predecessor, The White Lotus, without adding any new elements, there is absolutely no reason not to just watch the HBO Max series instead.